Pregnant chameleon?

17 March, 2008

Question: What’s happened to Leela? Where is she? Has she laid her eggs yet?

Leela, the Discovery Centre’s Veiled Chameleon.
Photographer: Alan Henderson, Source: Museum Victoria

Answer: Leela, the Discovery Centre’s Veiled Chameleon, has quickly become one of Melbourne Museum’s most popular exhibits. Over the past year, visitors and Museum staff have watched this vibrantly coloured reptile grow from a juvenile into a beautiful adult.

Late last year, Leela’s keepers started to suspect that she might be pregnant again. This was confirmed by an X-ray in December and her fans have been eagerly awaiting news ever since. Not a day goes by when a visitor doesn’t ask us whether she’s laid her eggs yet.

Recently, however, the Museum’s Live Exhibit keepers began to worry that Leela's pregnancy had gone on too long. Taken back to the vet for a check-up and ultrasound, the visit sadly revealed that her condition was deteriorating.

Leela’s ultrasound showing her many eggs
Source: University of Melbourne

The keepers were faced with a difficult decision. Removal of eggs from an egg-bound chameleon is a difficult and dangerous operation. However, at this late stage there was very little hope that Leela would lay her eggs on her own. Her best chance of surviving the operation was to have it as soon as possible, before her condition deteriorated further.

Leela went in for her operation on Thursday 13 March - the first time the operation was performed in Victoria. It took an hour for the vet to remove over 40 eggs and it was with great joy that we received the news that she had come out of the anaesthetic alive. Records of her weight taken before and after the operation showed the eggs had constituted one third of her pre-operation body weight.

Leela’s weight over the time she has been at Melbourne Museum. The first drop in weight was when she laid her first clutch of eggs. Weight gradually increased as she grew to adult size and progressed in her second pregnancy. The second drop represents her weight after her recent operation.

Over the next few days Leela ate several crickets, then on Sunday 16 March, she had a bowel movement. This was the sign her watchful keepers had been waiting for – Leela was on the mend. Her internal organs were functioning as they should be and she was processing food.

Leela after her operation and her eggs (in jar)
Source: Warranwood Veterinary Centre

Leela will spend the next couple of weeks recovering behind the scenes in her keepers' care. In the meantime, her enclosure in the Discovery Centre will be occupied by the museum’s other chameleon, Leon. Much larger than Leela and very impressive-looking, Leon can be hard to spot, as he’s not used to being on display and is a little shy.

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